Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Justice 4 Cleaners at SOAS - an important dispute for UNISON
The link above is to an excellent interview with three of the UNISON members, employed as cleaners at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) by private contractor ISS, who are striking today and tomorrow as part of their continuing campaign for equality with the conditions of in-house staff.
The story of how those who clean the offices of public service workers with decent sick pay and pensions do not enjoy such conditions themselves is painfully familiar across all the sectors in which UNISON organises.
In local government (for example) our "achievement" of single status was a hollow victory the fruits of which were denied to many (particularly low paid) workers whose jobs were outsourced before any pay and grading review.
The supposed "benefits" of "diversity of service provision" and bringing in "private sector expertise" are all essentially about driving down the pay and conditions of the workforce in a crude attempt to generate a saving at the expense of already low paid workers which can then be shared between the contractor (profits) and the client (budget savings).
It's a poor use of English ever to describe this process as more "efficient" than what came before - it's simply more exploitative. An added benefit for employers from contracting out is that (thanks to the impact of the UK's restrictive trade union legislation - and the compliance of the trade unions with those restrictions) the obstacles in the way of showing solidarity from the rest of the workforce to outsourced workers are considerable.
Contracting out of low paid jobs produces, at the level of the organisation as a whole, a segmented labour market, in which a (relatively) protected "core" workforce enjoy (relatively) greater security and stability, whilst a "peripheral" workforce (working for external contractors or employed through agencies) have far worse and more precarious working lives.
Because it is easier to organise the more stable and secure "core" workforce (where the employer generally recognises unions, has developed procedures etc.) there is a trap for our movement, which we fall into if we prioritise the "core" over the "periphery." In that case we could become the guardians of the (relative) privelige of the more stable and secure sector of the workforce, rather than reaching out to organise the workforce as a whole.
In the long run, such an approach, reinforcing division and inequality, offers no worthwhile future for trade unionism. That's why we need to be organising workers on the precarious periphery of our public services - and helping them to take up the issues which are of concern to them.
The strike today and tomorrow by the SOAS cleaners is an important moment in turning UNISON outward to the workers we need to organise if we are to grow in the twenty first century.
Sent from my BlackBerry 10 smartphone on the EE network.